Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told OPB that a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections could cause “more than 1,000 cases per day” over the next month if people don’t alter their behavior.
The spread of contagious variants and the easing of restrictions on businesses and social gatherings have already led to an increase in COVID-19 cases locally and nationally. Now, those rising case counts have prompted a return to tighter indoor dining capacity limits and restrictions on other businesses and personal gatherings in several of Oregon’s most populous counties.
The state moved six counties to their “high risk” category on Tuesday, prompting stricter capacity limits on restaurants, bars, gyms, stores and limiting private social gatherings to 8 people.
Affected counties include Multnomah and Clackamas in the Portland metropolitan area, as well as the more rural counties of Deschutes (home to Bend), Klamath, Linn and Tillamook, expanding Oregon’s list of “high risk” counties to 14.
Gov. Kate Brown also announced a major change in the metrics the state uses to determine when to judge counties at “extreme risk,” triggering a total ban on indoor dining, among other restrictions.
That level of risk will only be triggered in limited circumstances that indicate the state could be at risk of running out of hospital capacity: COVID-19 positive patients occupying 300 hospital beds or more, and a 15% increase in the average of seven days over last week.
Three counties – Josephine, Klamath and Tillamook – meet the state’s positivity and case rate threshold for being designated as “extreme risk” but will instead be considered high risk under the new guidelines.
The governor described the current situation as a race between the vaccination effort and the spread of more communicable variants of COVID-19 that have been detected across the state.
Two states with case numbers high enough to be considered “extreme risk,” Josephine and Tillamook, have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state.
Overall, Oregon’s vaccination rates are not yet high enough to stop the spread of COVID-19: Only about a third of Oregonians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 19% are fully vaccinated. Statewide, 76% of people 65 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 57% are fully vaccinated, but rates vary widely across the state.
Allen cautioned that older people in rural Oregon, where vaccination rates lag, are particularly vulnerable as case counts, test positivity rates and hospitalizations continue to rise.
Grant County has the lowest rate of vaccinated seniors, with only 23.6% fully vaccinated, while the highest is Baker County with 87.7% of fully vaccinated seniors, according to the CDC.
Allen fears that rates for the elderly are stabilizing at 50% or less in some rural areas.
“I think there are a lot of factors and it’s a bit difficult to get to the bottom of that. I don’t think it is because of the lack of access to the vaccine. I think it is a lack of concern about the disease in some cases, a perception that many of us have that we are healthy and strong, ”Allen said.
Oregon was one of the last states in the nation to open vaccine eligibility to people 65 and older, and in many counties, a fragmented, largely online system for signing up for appointments has been difficult for adults to navigate. greater.
Allen says that while demand for vaccines still outstrips supply in the Portland metropolitan area, that’s no longer true in parts of rural Oregon, where vaccination appointments take longer to complete.
Across the state, the pace of vaccinations has increased significantly, a factor in the governor’s decision to open vaccine eligibility to all Oregonians 16 and older on April 19, according to a new deadline. established by President Joe Biden.
“Our daily average, seven days a week, is close to 35,000 people. While you still have a traffic jam when you make a new group eligible, we are getting through those traffic jams faster, ”Allen said.